Time for Change
People use drugs for all sorts of reasons: hallucinogens to find god, amphetamines to heighten sex, opiates to relieve pain, or simply to just feel good. By declaring a war on drugs, we have declared a war on our fellow U.S. citizens. Our friends, neighbors, and coworkers could all be secretly using narcotics for medicinal or pleasurable reasons. In the “land of the free”, why do we not have the freedom to choose what we consume? The United States implemented the war on drugs four decades ago, and it is not working. It is no secret that many Americans suffer from addiction and that illegal narcotics have the ability to ruin many lives. However, this war is not working, and another approach must be taken. With the deteriorating economy decriminalization of drug use is a logical step for consideration, but ultimately legalization is the solution to the drug problem and America’s debt.
According to “The History of Drugs in America Timeline”, many currently illegal drugs were once used medicinally by citizens countrywide. In 1861 forms of opium were first used to relieve pain of soldiers (par. 13). Cocaine was praised as a “miracle cure” for alcohol and morphine addiction in 1884. It was also sold for relieving symptoms of depression, seasickness, hay fever, toothache, headache, and the common cold (par. 24). In 1886 Coca-Cola, containing coca leaf, was introduced as a medicine, and in 1895 simply marketed as a refreshing beverage (par. 30). In 1898 Bayer sold heroin over the counter as a cough suppressant (par. 45). This timeline not only covers illegal drugs, but also outlines the history of caffeine and tobacco use in the U.S. Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are used daily by most Americans and were all once outlawed. There have been hundreds of studies on the medical uses of illegal drugs for Americans to draw their own conclusions from, but the outlawing of a substance doesn’t confirm it’s positive or negative attributes. So why are drugs outlawed?
The national prohibition of alcohol, also known as “The Noble Experiment” between 1920 and 1933, “Was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America” states Auburn University Professor Mark Thornton in “Policy Analysis no. 157” (par. 1). These are the same reasons president Nixon started the war on drugs in 1971—for the overall benefit of the American citizens. The reasons for prohibition are what any American would want, the problem is that the prohibition of alcohol did not work. Thorton goes on to say, “Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became “organized”; the court and prison systems were stretched to a breaking point; and corruption of public officials were rampant” (par. 3). These are the same problems America is currently facing! The war on drugs is a prohibition on drugs. America already learned from the ban on alcohol that prohibition doesn’t work, so why are we repeating the past? There are other more effective solutions to America’s drug “problem”.
One country has realized that prohibition doesn’t work, and had the courage to try a different solution to drug use and related crime. TIME writer Maia Szalavitz reports in “Drugs in Portugal: did Decriminalization Work?” that in 2001 Portugal became the first European country to try decriminalization of drugs as a solution to their drug problem (par. 1). Portugal has removed the threat of jail time for drug offenders and instead replaced punishment with therapy, including a legal adviser, a psychologist, and a social worker for those caught abusing narcotics. Szalavitz summarizes a study on the result, reporting “that in five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled” (par. 4). Most European countries have lax drug laws compared to America, yet America has the highest consumption of marijuana and cocaine in the world (Szalavitz par. 8). It is obvious that America’s stance on drugs is not efficient.
Szalavitz states that “the U.S. is home to 5% of the global population but 25% of it’s prisoners,” (par. 10), and according to the Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme in “The Incarceration of Drug Offenders: An Overview”, 53% of federal prisoners were incarcerated on a drug related charge in 2007 (par. 10). That means more American arrests are made on drug offenses than any other crime- including rape, murder, and assault. The overview also exemplifies the negative correlation between drug dealers being put behind bars and the price of narcotics (par 15). The more drug dealers that are put in jail means less competition to sell drugs on the streets, making prices plummet in typical supply-demand fashion. Lower cost equals easier accessibility to users. Letting non-violent drug offenders back on the streets (decriminalization) will fix the overpopulation problem in jails and save millions of dollars wasted on our already below par prison systems.
Decriminalization will save billions on the correctional front—about 41.3 billion annually according to Harvard Professor Jeffery Miron in “All Drugs Should be Legalized Immediately, says Harvard Prof”, an article written by Henry Blodget (par. 3). Miron breaks down spending, sharing that roughly 25.7 billion is spent by state governments, and 15.6 by the federal government on the enforcement of prohibition alone (par. 3). But if America really wants to bring the economy out of its slump, legalizing drugs is the answer. If drugs were legalized and taxed at rates similar to tobacco and alcohol, Miron estimates a profit of 46.7 billion per year. 8.7 billion alone stemming from the legalization of marijuana, an option that some states are already considering (par. 4).
Legalizing drugs gives us the opportunity to regulate what is in a drug, making drug use ultimately safer. Regulating illegal drugs would require the same rules as with tobacco and alcohol—licensed manufactures, control agencies, taxes, warning labels, and use and age restrictions (including it being illegal to drive or go to work high). Legalizing drugs would eliminate street dealing, which in turn would eliminate much of the street violence, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Imagine a world where you could walk into a store and buy the drug of your choice at the potency you choose, knowing exactly what effects this drug will have on your body. It is true that drug use may spike for the curious folks, but ultimately it will decline.
There is such a thing as a responsible drug use. If a person succeeds in his or her chosen profession they should not be judged on what they do in their own time. It is rumored that Einstein and Picasso used drugs, and if drug use was not labeled taboo, we would be surprised to learn the amount of functioning drug users we know.
We should have the freedom to do what we want to do, whether that be exploring the medicinal properties of currently illegal drugs or becoming a junkie. As Americans, we should be free to choose. Decriminalization will save us money; legalization will make us money. Either way, we need to demolish the war on drugs and try a new approach. Things were different four decades ago, isn’t it time for change?